Saturday 23 August 2008

Carrot cupcakes

I love carrot cake, but it's something I tend to have to make for myself, as bought carrot cakes tend to have out-of-bounds nuts (particularly walnuts) in them. I therefore didn't know that I liked carrot cake until I first decided to make it. I originally used Delia Smith's Low Fat Carrot Cake, not for being low fat per se, but because one of the ways in which she makes it low fat is to miss out the nuts. Result! It is a gorgeous, squidgy, moist cake, and with the inclusion of carrots, raisins, wholemeal flour and sunflower oil rather than butter, could almost be said to be good for you. Well, as far as cake can possibly be good for you. And if you're wanting to make Delia's version and are worried about the topping, don't be, it's divine and really complements the cake perfectly. I tried eating the Quark on it's own once, yuk! That bit of icing sugar and the spice transform the topping into a perfect frosting to complement the carrot cake.
Anyway, this post isn't actually about Delia's carrot cake, I just got carried away with the memory of eating it.....mmmmm. I wanted to make individual carrot cakes to take into work and because they wouldn't be refrigerated, decided to opt for buttercream rather than cream cheese topping as the former is ok out of the fridge. I thought Delia's recipe might be a little too moist for this purpose though and decided to try this one, from BBC Good Food magazine a number of years ago. It's very easy to make (especially if you're lazy like me and don't bother with the orange zest - in fairness I didn't have any oranges in) but is not a particularly attractive batter as you'll see later. I scaled the recipe to 2/3 of the original and made a couple of other minor modifications as you'll see.
Low fat moist carrot cake
115g light muscovado sugar
115ml sunflower oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
66g raisins
115g self-raising flour
scant tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp mixed spice
For the buttercream frosting
100g very soft butter
200g icing sugar, sifted
1tsp vanilla extract
-Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with 9-10 paper cases
-Put the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Stir in the grated carrots and raisins.
-Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spice, then sift into the liquid mixture, mixing to combine. The mixture will be fairly runny.
-Tricky bit now - attempt to pour/spoon mixture into the cases any way you can without spilling too much. I think I used a large metal spoon. Place in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, although check around 25. They are ready when the feel firm to touch and a cake tester comes out clean.
-Remove to a wire rack to cool while you make the buttercream.
-Beat butter and icing sugar together, add vanilla extract and continue beating until very light and fluffy.
-Frost your cupcakes when cool.

The egg/sugar/raisin/carrot mixture - not a pretty picture and you can't imagine that such a lovely cake could possibly come out of it!

Doesn't look much better when the flour and spices have been added, very runny and yuk!

But magically, all will come right and you will have glorious cupcakes. I made 9 out of this amount of mixture, but you could probably get 10, they were quite large. The mixture does rise quite a lot during baking - I think I only filled them about 2/3 of the way.

Frosted cupcakes ready to be transported to work. I probably didn't use as much buttercream as I've specified in the recipe, as I made it for both these and the coffee walnut cupcakes at the same time and didn't want to use too much. I think they could have done with a little more icing, but they were very well received at work - they are moist and delicious.

Friday 22 August 2008

Coffee Walnut cupcakes

Well, I think these are definitely the best I've made yet. I took them into work and they got rave reviews, with one colleague saying they were possibly the best coffee walnut cake she had eaten! Can't ask for better than that really. It's just a shame that I'll never taste them I suppose!!! (Nut allergy and not liking coffee very much.) I try not to work with nuts too often, but I had a packet of walnuts in the cupboard destined for a rich fruit cake that I'd changed my mind about making, so it was a good use to put them to. J has often found when making cakes for Church coffee mornings that the coffee walnut is one of the first to sell out, it just seems to be very popular. It could also be that she bakes a fantastic coffee walnut cake, all of the regular coffee morning attendees know this and it gets snapped up in the blink of an eye. Personally I think it must partly be a nostalgia thing, nothing says hazy summer childhood days better than coffee walnut cake.
I've made this before as a traybake type cake (as J does) and sliced it up before serving, but individual cakes are easier for work and lend themselves to piped buttercream better than a large cake does. However, I noticed that the texture of this cake is extremely light and fluffy, more so than you would expect for a normal sponge cake mixture. I don't really understand why this is, as it's made in the same way so I'm guessing it's something chemical to do with the coffee in the cake mix. Interesting....
So, onto the recipe. Quantities are a little flexible - it depends how much you like coffee and walnuts! I used 50g of chopped walnuts in the mixture, but you could easily increase that, perhaps even double it if you want to. I used a heaped tsp of instant coffee dissolved in about a tbsp of boiling water for the mixture, but again, if you're a coffee fiend and like your coffee mega powerful, you could try a tbsp of coffee in the least amount of water it takes to dissolve it. The buttercream is also a moveable feast - I was making buttercream for two different sets of cakes at the same time, so at a guess I used 100g of butter to 225g icing sugar and a heaped tsp of instant coffee in a tbsp boiling water. If you love buttercream and want all your cakes to look like the ones on the right hand side of the picture above (no cake visible, buttercream right to the edges of the case) I'd say to use 120g butter to 260g icing sugar, plus coffee. Otherwise 100g butter is probably fine. So, the recipe....
Coffee Walnut Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream Icing
120g butter, softened
60g caster sugar
60g light muscovado (light brown soft) sugar
2 large eggs
120g sifted self raising flour
1tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1tbsp boiling water (or more, see above) - allow to cool
50g chopped walnuts
For the icing
100-120g softened butter
225-260g icing sugar, sifted if very lumpy
1 heaped tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1tbsp boiling water (or more, see above), allowed to cool
12 walnut halves
-Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
-Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.
-Add eggs one at a time with a little flour to stop the mixture curdling if you want.
-Add the cooled coffee mixture. It does seem a pain to wait until it cools, but if you don't it's likely to curdle your mixture (as I found to my cost - I actually added mine after the flour, having forgotten to add it before, and it split the mixture a little, but luckily the final cakes were ok!)
-Fold in the flour and chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between the paper cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until springy when pressed and a cake tester/cocktail stick comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool. (Drool as the smell of coffee and nuts fills your house....)
-For the buttercream, combine the softened butter and icing sugar with a fork, then switch to an electric mixer and carry on beating until the buttercream is very light and fluffy and has turned pale in colour. Add the (cooled) coffee mixture (to taste - see above) and beat to combine.
-Place the nozzle of your choice into a piping bag, fill with the buttercream and pipe away to your hearts content. Swirly buttercream - yum.
-Place a walnut half (try and find 12 nice halves in the packet of walnuts - this is one case where you do need to buy the more expensive halves rather than chopped/broken walnuts) on the top of each little tower of buttercream. You could add some more chopped walnuts on the side of the buttercream, but I prefer the simplicity of just the one half on top.
-Enjoy your creation. (Or in my case, give your creations to someone else and watch them enjoy!!!)

Chopped walnuts ready to be added to the mixture - you can just see the halves I've reserved for topping the cupcakes to the left of the picture.

Strong, strong coffee. Even J doesn't drink it like this! Notice the resemblance to tar!!! You want the instant coffee to only just dissolve in the boiling water.

Naked cupcakes ready to be iced.

An utterly droolworthy iced cupcake - how can you resist?!

Thursday 21 August 2008

Vanilla fudge cupcakes

Glossy shiny icing for simple cupcakes. I decided that I wanted something slightly more interesting than just plain vanilla buttercream for these vanilla cupcakes and found the perfect icing on the Caked Crusader's blog - there should be more people fighting for the cause of cake in this world, and the Caked Crusader is doing a fabulous job - I always want to make the cakes she talks about, and this was no exception. Since I appear to be in cupcake mode at the moment (easier for people to pick up rather than a slice of a larger cake) I decided to go for plain vanilla cupcakes. Plain perhaps, but delicious nevertheless (put that down to the use of real butter in the cake mixture, plus decent vanilla extract). Since the star of the show here is the icing, I'm not going to give a recipe for the cake - it's just normal sponge cake mixture, but if you want a recipe, follow this one for coffee walnut cupcakes, but omit the coffee and walnuts, replacing with 1tsp vanilla extract.
Ok, so you have your naked cupcakes ready to be iced - see picture above - it's nice to leave a bit of depth for the icing to pool in - because it's not stiff it won't gain great height, so to have a good depth you need to allow a little room! I guess it's time for the icing recipe.

Caramel fudge icing
-60g unsalted butter
-110g brown sugar
-2 tablespoons milk or cream, more may be required
-80g icing sugar

-Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the brown sugar and milk/cream.
-Bring to the boil then reduce the heat at once. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from the hob.
-Allow to cool slightly before sifting in the icing sugar. Sifting the icing sugar is vital – if you don’t the icing sugar will form lumps in the icing which no beating will remove (as I learnt to my cost and had to remake it!)
-If the icing becomes too thick simply beat in an additional tablespoon of milk.

I have copied the Caked Crusader's instructions word for word, but because I'm lazy I didn't bother sifting the icing sugar. The CC is right, it does form lumps, but my icing sugar was fairly non-lumpy and I was able to beat really, really hard and the lumps did go (eventually). I think sifting the icing sugar would be quite a labour saving step overall. Go with what the CC did!
The butter, sugar and cream melting together in the pan - you can just see the bubbles if you look closely. When you add the icing sugar it makes the whole thing much paler.

Although they look fairly plain these were well received and attracted plenty of compliments about the butterscotchy, fudgy icing. Well worth a try!

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Chocolate fudge cupcakes

Yummy chocolate cupcakes as far as the eye can see. This is another simple recipe, but they do look quite attractive when they're all iced and ready to go. It's a basic victoria sponge type cake mix but with a couple of modifications. One is obviously the addition of cocoa powder to make them into chocolate cupcakes, and the other is that instead of using caster sugar I used a combination of dark and light muscovado sugar to give them a nice depth of flavour. So without further ado, here's the recipe.
Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate glace icing
4oz/120g very soft butter
2oz/60g dark muscovado sugar
2oz/60g light muscovado sugar
3.5oz/100g self raising flour
0.5oz/20g cocoa powder
2 large eggs

For the icing
3oz/75g dark chocolate (I used 72% Green and Blacks - yum!)
3/4oz/22g butter
3tbsp warm water (from the kettle)
6oz/175g icing sugar

-Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a muffin tin with muffin cases.
-Cream the two sugars with the butter until light and fluffy. The mixture will not become as light in colour as normal due to the dark sugars, but will lighten noticeably as you mix it.
-Add the eggs, one at a time beating after each addition, with a spoonful of flour to stop the mixture curdling if you want.
-Fold in the rest of the flour and spoon into the muffin cases.
-Place in the oven and bake for around 25 minutes, but start to check after 20.
-Remove when ready (cake tester/cocktail stick comes out clean and they feel firm and springy to the touch) to a wire rack to cool.
-Make the icing by melting the chocolate, butter and warm water together in a bowl placed over a pan of hot water, stirring once or twice to mix well.
-Add the icing sugar, and beat well to get all the lumps out. You could sift the icing sugar (and I would recommend this if your icing sugar is lumpy at all to start with) but I'm lazy and my icing sugar seemed fairly non-lumpy to start with. I do find that sometimes I sift the icing sugar and it clumps up anyway, and I hate sifting icing sugar, it's such a faff that I often don't bother.
-Ice the cooled cupcakes. Decorate any way you fancy, I kept it simple with some bought sugar flowers, but you could let your imagination run wild with piped designs etc etc. It's entirely up to you!
Butter and the two different sugars before mixing.
And after creaming the butter and sugar together. The mixture has lightened.

Naked cupcakes waiting for their load of icing. They do seem a little on the mean side, but because this icing is a poured rather than piped one, you want a little space in the cases to allow the icing to pool into a nice deep layer, as shown below:

Mmmm, yummy icing and delicate chocolate cake. These were really scrummy and disappeared quickly with lots of appreciative comments. I did manage to snaffle one for myself though before they all went! The icing was good, being both quicker and easier to make than buttercream, and less sweet and rich (which is good in my book as I find buttercream too sickly) but was very slightly grainy. The icing really did run down the side of the cupcakes as you can see on the right hand side in the above photo.

A lovely glossy icing for a sweet and simple cupcake.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Raspberry swirl cupcakes

My buttercream piping skills are getting better! A batch of simple vanilla cupcakes with a little twist - marbled with a little swirl of raspberry jam. I have a slight confession to make - I forgot to add any vanilla extract to the actual cupcake mixture, but as I used butter and organic eggs in the mix, they tasted good anyway! I decided to colour my buttercream pink just for the sake of it really, to complement the cupcakes and continue the pink/red theme. It also covered up the very very slight brownish hue of the buttercream due to the added vanilla extract in it. Although I'm sure no-one would have noticed anyway. I found some pretty cupcake cases in Julian Graves and I also have to admit to buying disposable plastic piping bags from Lakeland limited. So so much easier than washing, drying and reusing the cloth type one that came with my piping nozzles, or attempting to use plastic food bags, as I did for the chocolate suprise cupcakes. (This is a big mistake - plastic food bags, even one inside each other, are not strong enough to hold the nozzle in place and I ended up with buttercream oozing all over the place as the plastic stretched and allowed the buttercream to escape.....) The disposable piping bags are great - you just chop the end off to allow the nozzle to poke out, fill the bag and away you go, piping with no fear that the buttercream will develop an adventurous mind of its own. So onto the recipe:

Raspberry swirl cupcakes
120g butter, softened
120g caster sugar
120g self raising flour
2 large eggs
4tsp raspberry jam (you can use seedless if you want, but I didn't)

For the buttercream icing
100g butter (very soft indeed)
225g icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
approximately 1/2 tsp red food colouring (optional, and to the colour you require - if you use paste colours you'll need a lot less!!!)

-Preheat oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a muffin tin with 12 papers
-Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
-Add eggs one at a time, beating well and adding a little flour if necessary to stop the mixture curdling. Add the vanilla extract.
-Add the remaining flour, fold in and spoon into the muffin cases.
-Blob a little jam onto the top of each cake mixture and swirl with a cocktail stick.
-Bake for 20-25 minutes until light golden brown and a cocktail stick inserted comes out clean.
-Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool.
-For the buttercream, start by mixing the (very very soft) butter with the icing sugar using a fork (if you use the electric mixer at this stage you will end up inhaling icing sugar - nice!!!) then once it starts to come together, switch to an electric mixer to avoid arm-ache. Beat very well until light and fluffy, adding the vanilla extract and red food colouring if desired.
-Spoon into a piping bag and swirl away. Generosity with the buttercream icing is always a good thing.
My cupcakes in the cases with jam blobbed on the top.
After swirling the jam. Mmmmm, swirly.
You'll have to use your imagination here regarding colours - what can I say, it got dark! You can probably just make out the raspberry swirl remaining after baking - if you look closely enough!
Yum yum, swirly buttercream on the cupcake. I was really proud of the way these turned out and they were extremely well received - gone in a matter of minutes (well, almost) and plenty of compliments!

Sunday 17 August 2008

Chocolate suprise cupcakes

I can't take any credit for the idea here, I saw these a while ago on Hannah's Country Kitchen and fancied giving them a go. I'm still trying to get my buttercream icing to look good and these provided an ideal opportunity to have another go at both buttercream and piping. There seemed to be a dearth of Rolos in my local supermarkets though, so I resorted to using chunks of Cadbury's Caramel instead. They were quite a bit bigger than Rolos though, although it's always nice to have a large chunk of caramel inside your cupcake. You can see from the picture that these didn't rise as much as I was hoping, and the cases seem a little empty, but at least there's plenty of buttercream to disguise this!

Unfortunately my mixture curdled while I was making them, I can only guess that it was due to having different ingredients at different temperatures and them not mixing properly. It came back when I added the flour though. I suppose this might have been why they didn't rise as much as Hannah's lovely cakes. (You can find the recipe on Hannah's blog). And although I'm quite proud of my buttercream, it isn't a patch on hers yet! More work yet to do there and more tasting, it's a hard life....
Cupcake half full of mixture with a big chunk of Cadbury's caramel sitting on top. When I was adding the remaining mixture to the cupcake cases I had to be quite careful to try and get the caramel covered - there didn't seem to be a lot of mixture, so perhaps I'd used too much on the base.
My best attempt yet at piping with buttercream. I've found that to get good buttercream it needs to be beaten for a very long time, therefore an electric whisk is preferable to doing it by hand. The icing just seemed to get paler and paler and fluffier as I beat it and I'm sure I would have given up much too early if I'd been doing it by hand.
These were very well received indeed - very sweet, but my colleagues didn't seem to mind that. There were a number of guesses as to the surprise inside ranging from toffee to mars bar and correctly caramel!

Saturday 16 August 2008

Plum gorgeous

Apricot and plum cake.... well, I suppose that unless you're greedy enough to eat two pieces at once, that should really be 'apricot OR plum cake'. I had a few apricots left over and one of J's friends had given me some plums from the tree in her garden. She grows so much fruit it's unbelievable - gooseberries, plums, apricots (though mine were supermarket ones), apples and whenever we visit, we leave loaded with fruit from the garden, which is really lovely!
So I decided a fitting end to these lovely plums was to be baked and found a recipe in one of my old Delicious magazines. It's a really lovely way to eat more fruit, the cake itself is utterly gorgeous, soft and moist and sweet and perfectly offsets the slightly tart plums (and apricots). Good with a breaktime cuppa (as my colleagues found) or drizzled with a little cream as a lovely pudding. Yum, and I'll be making this again.

Apricot/Plum cake
Makes 12 squares (though if you have smaller fruit, you could easily make 15 squares, as they were generous squares)
180g unsalted butter, softened plus extra for greasing
160g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs
225g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
6 small, ripe apricots, halved and stoned (or a mixture of apricots, plums, small nectarines, peach slices - you'll need 8 pieces of fruit to make 15 squares.....obviously!)
Icing sugar, for dusting

-Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4. Grease and line a 28x20cm rectangular cake tin (a fairly deep one, not a swiss roll tin).
-In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk until light and creamy.
-Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after you add each one and adding in a tbsp of the measured flour to prevent curdling. Stir in the vanilla extract.
-Fold in the remaining flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt (not if using salted butter) until combined.
-Spoon into tin and level off - more important than usual because you want each piece of fruit to have an even layer of cake under it. Place the fruit halves onto the mixture pushing down slightly, guesstimating where you'll be cutting later, so there's a piece of fruit in the middle of each piece of cake.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for a few minutes, then carefully remove and transfer to a wire rack.
-Allow to cool completely, cut into squares and dust with icing sugar. (Will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container, but be careful in hot weather as the fruit will start to go mouldy)

Naked apricot and plum after the cake is baked - this one really benefits from having a little dusting of icing sugar on it.

Mmmmmm, gorgeous buttery dense yet light texture.

Things I learnt while making this cake:
Well, not really while I was making it, but after it was done and taken into work there was one piece left and I decided to refrigerate it. This was a BAD move - the cake went really firm and lost all the pleasing softness. It did eventually go soft again when I left it out, but I definitely don't recommend refrigerating it!

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Easy chocolate brownie cookies

I've been baking a fair bit recently, but haven't got round to blogging most of it, so hopefully there'll be a little rash of posts soonish! So here we go with the first (and quickest) one:
Yum! Sticky, chewy brownie-ish cookies. These were really quick and easy to make and got rave reviews at work (well, lots of people liked them and one comment was 'They're just like something you'd buy at Millies Cookies' - this was meant as a compliment so I'm taking it as one!). I spotted the recipe over at Apple and Spice, so thank you very much Katie, these were a hit and so much easier and quicker than making brownies. I made a couple of changes to Katie's recipe - I only had 40g white chocolate, so that's all I put in, and I cooked them for a little longer, probably about 13 or 14 minutes as they looked very squishy and wobbly at 9 minutes.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies
60g butter
50g dark chocolate
70g caster sugar
70g light muscovado sugar
1 egg
125g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking powder
40g white chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 175C/Gas 5 and line a baking tray with parchment paper - these are very sticky cookies as you can see from the picture below. Melt the butter and dark chocolate together in a saucepan until smooth and then remove from the heat. Stir in the caster sugar and brown sugar and beat until the crystals have dissolved (except my crystals didn't dissolve - don't make my mistake and overheat the whole mixture - it turned a bit grainy and separated, but I don't think the end result was affected). Then beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and beat until all combined. The mixture will turn very stiff at this stage but this is what you want. Finally chop the white chocolate into chunks and stir through the chocolate batter.
Drop rounded tablespoons of the chocolate mixture onto the baking tray as best you can, it's very sticky, leaving a gap between each one (mine didn't spread too much as they cooked). Flatten slightly. Bake in the oven for 9 minutes only (but mine took 13-14 as mentioned above) before removing and leaving for 2 minutes to firm up before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Do not over bake or they will become crispy when cool.
Makes around 14 cookies

Sticky baking parchment after the cookies were cooked.

Yummy cookies - J also added her seal of approval to these!

Sunday 3 August 2008

Plain white rolls

Sometimes I just want a plain ordinary (though delicious all the same) white roll to use for making sandwiches to take into work. This is just such a roll. I'd like to say that I bake all my own bread, but sadly I'm just a little too disorganised to make that claim. I tend to run out and need some sooner than I can make it. I have thus far resisted (and this is difficult for a gadget loving girl) buying a breadmaker on the grounds that I won't use it enough - although I have sandwiches pretty much every day, there's still just the one of me eating the bread, so the machine would get used once a week max. Anyway, I digress. So, back to the bread.

One of my favourite bakers is Dan Lepard. I'm not sure where I was introduced to his recipes, but I guess it was probably via the 'How to Bake' column that he writes each Saturday in the Guardian Weekend magazine section. From there I followed his recipes onto the internet, to his extremely helpful forum and discovered that not only does he make (excellent) cakes, he actually specialises in bread and yeast bakery. I've learnt (and am still learning) lots from reading the forums, especially as he often replies personally to people's problems and will explain recipes and techniques in detail, and the forum also inspired me to buy his book, The Handmade Loaf. More to come on that hopefully, but I need to get a sourdough starter going yet......

He has lots of different bread recipes, some of them using different techniques, like this one. I adapted this recipe from one he originally published for red onion and green olive rolls. I made them once in the original format, and they were really good, but this time I wanted something plain for lunches.

Dan's kneading techinque is different from the 'old school' mix ingredients together and knead for ten minutes way. He advocates three short kneads (and they really are short - about 30 seconds each) with 10 minutes resting time inbetween each knead. This initially sounds like a complete faff, with all that hanging around, but I tend to be making something else at the same time, and so the time passes quickly enough, in fact I often stretch ten minutes to fifteen or even twenty on occasion. The idea of kneading on an oiled surface is a revelation as well - no more throwing flour all over everything to stop the dough sticking and ending up in a sticky floury mess. I take this a step further and knead on a wooden chopping board, which means that if anything does happen to stick I can just pick up the board and easily wash/scrape it off.

The difference in this roll is that it incorporates cooked flour. Dan says that this helps to keep the roll moister for longer. (I haven't done any experiments on this, but see no reason to disbelieve him, and it is a lovely, close textured yet light roll).

Plain white rolls (makes 9)
400ml water
2 tsp easy-blend yeast
500g strong white flour
2 level tsp salt
Polenta or cornmeal for dusting

Weigh 50g flour into a saucepan then add 400ml cold water and whisk. Bring to the boil, whisking furiously then spoon the mixture into a large mixing bowl and leave until warm. Beat in the yeast, add the remaining flour and salt, and work to a smooth dough. Cover and leave 10 minutes, then knead on a lightly oiled worktop for about 10 seconds then cover and leave 10 minutes. Repeat this knead-and-rest sequence twice more at 10 minute intervals then leave covered for 30 min. Roll the dough on a floured surface to about 20cm by 25cm, brush with water and sprinkle with polenta. Cut into 9 pieces, lay these spaced apart on 1 or 2 trays (lined with paper if you want although I didn't bother), cover and leave 1 1/2 hours. Heat the oven to 220C (220C fan-assisted) and bake for 20-25 minutes.

The cooked flour and water mixture. It looks like wallpaper paste, but have faith!!!

The brand of yeast I used. I used a scant two teaspoons of yeast and a scant two teaspoons of salt. It was quite warm the day I made them so I could possibly have used less yeast.

Come on, hurry up and cool down!!! I think I waited until it was about 40C before adding the yeast etc.

Mixing the rest of the ingredients in. It looks far too dry, but don't give up, just keep going.

Magic - after the first kneading the dough somehow miraculously comes together!

After the third kneading and ready to be shaped.

To show the fermentation and crumb structure.

Risen and ready for the oven. I dusted mine with flour, perhaps a little too generously.

Delicious crumb structure of the inside of one of the bread rolls. And below, the final product. Really tasty bread, very much recommended.

Saturday 2 August 2008

On holiday

Just look at the colour of that sky. J and I went on holiday recently to Italy, to escape the grey dullness which appears to be passing for the great british summertime (well, at least here in the northwest!). The weather was gloriously hot and dry - perfect for doing nothing and just relaxing. We visited a few cities, travelling by train between them.

Unfortunately the Euro is really strong at the moment, and it almost seemed as though we were getting euros for pounds, which was quite dispiriting and made everything rather expensive. We didn't go out for any smart meals, preferring instead to stick to local pizzerias - inexpensive but extremely tasty. No pictures of pizza though because I still feel odd taking pictures in restaurants. I guess that'll pass though, as I decide I want pictures to share on here!!!

Our first port of call was Bologna, and we stayed in a really lovely hotel, the Albergo Centrale. (Thoroughly recommended - the hotel was in a very central location (the clue is in the name!), friendly staff and a great room!) They had a lovely breakfast spread, as seen in the photo below:
and they included some lovely little pastries too - J informs me that they were very tasty, but I prefer to stick to bread and jam for breakfast, no hardship at all as the bread is so delicious and fresh.
We moved on to Bolzano (Bozen) in the mountains in the far north of Italy. We had been there before (and stayed in Hotel Feichter last time and this) and loved it so much that we wanted to go back. I feel I ought to mention the breakfast provided by Hotel Feichter too - it was one of the reasons we both enjoyed staying there so much - there is a lovely spread with fresh rolls, alpine butter, homemade jam and what looked like rhubarb compote (as well as the more ubiquitous industrially made jams in little containers), crossaint type pastries (but sweeter than French croissants), cereals, milk, yogurt, sliced cheeses and cold sliced meats, fruit juices and your choice of coffee/cappuccino/hot chocolate etc made freshly and brought to your breakfast table and probably more that I'm forgetting - we only needed a light snack for lunch!!! Bolzano is very much more Germanic than Italian, in fact the principal language seems to be German (which suits me as my German is rather better than my non-existant Italian!) which is unsurprising as the area used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until relatively recently. It is slightly odd to be greeted in two languages when entering shops, museums and restaurants though! Below is a gorgeous display of bread in a shop window in Bolzano - there are so many yummy bakeries that it's hard to resist diving into all of them, and J let me peer into windows to indulge my fascination with all things bread. Yum! (If you look closely you'll be able to find the bread mouse in the basket - it's in the top right of the display!)
The rather sticky hazelnutty cakey slice above was also from one of the Bolzano bakeries.

Cantucci from a pasticceria in Florence, another brief stop on our tour of Italy - we certainly managed to cover a large area! I must find a recipe and try and make these myself, so that I can leave the nuts out (sometimes it's really irritating being allergic to stuff!) and see what they taste like for myself.

Anyway..... onto the important subject of Gelato. When in Italy, it is imperative to eat a lot of icecream. It's delicious and perfect for cooling down during the day, or eaten whilst walking back to the hotel in the evening as a way of rounding off a meal. On our last visit to Italy, we found a fabulous gelateria in Florence, which made the most delicious chocolate gelato, but sadly, when we went back this year it just didn't seem to live up to my excellent memories. I seemed to think that they included chocolate pieces in their chocolate gelato (always a bonus) but not this time. (Apologies for the shocking photo but there wasn't quite enough light and working with icecream is difficult since it has a tendency to drip and melt onto you if you take too long getting the picture!)

Perhaps the problem was that we'd been spoilt by the absolutely amazing (and I really, really mean that!) gelato that we'd had in Bologna.

This gelateria was recommended to us by a fellow traveller and was a bit of a walk (15 minutes from the city centre in 30+C heat!) but so, so worth it. Hidden away in a more residential part of the city this is an absolute gem. When you walk into the shop you can see through to the immaculate kitchens in the back where they make all of their own gelati, and the small crowd of Italians both in and outside the shop lets you know you're onto something very special.

The gelati below are chocolate and espresso, no prizes for guessing which is which! This is far and away the most intense and delicious chocolate gelato I have ever tasted and so with this final picture of seductively melting and dripping gelato I will leave you to drool.......


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